Grief and Other Hideous Effects

Every morning I go to the French doors at the back of my house and I look upon the wide expanse of desert that surrounds me. I look down at the patio, and I don’t see Ella so my gaze runs out to the East, where my mom and I set a cat trap with salmon. I lost my cat two weeks ago, and although I know her likely destiny was prey to a California desert predator, I keep looking for her to show up.

Grief does funny things to people. It’s an emotion that I didn’t clearly recognize I was going through the years after leaving the cult I was involved in. Some people said they thought I felt rejected and that was why I became depressed. Of course there was rejection upon leaving.  Upon disagreeing with the senior pastor, he cut me off from communication (like he’d done to so many others in his past). Why?  He became disappointed in me because I was unwilling to come back to Louisiana and I was unwilling to live my life according to his rules. Fragments of conversation trickle down the chain of command there in Louisiana, where eavesdroppers at household conversations and bystanders at after-church discussions mix truth with lies with assumptions about why people leave the church. Eventually, the game of telephone dilutes any truth of why anyone left and people are left to their own assumptions mixed with he-said, she-said which is never generous to the person who leaves the “place of blessing” or “out of the anointing” or “House of God.” Negative assumptions breed rejection, and what I felt was rejection from people I’d grown close to for much of the history of my young adult life.

More powerfully than rejection, though, was the grief I experienced from an amalgamation of losing my friends, people I considered close (like family), and discarding and deconstructing the teachings I now disagreed with.

During a journey of grieving and depression, I allowed myself to be expressive, angry, searching and honest.

I began to grieve and mourn the loss of people I’d considered friends for many years of my life, and I began to grieve the loss of what I thought was my “faith” and what turned out to be a need for people’s approval. As I began to intersect the faith I’d been taught in the cult with the faith I’d felt in my heart was right my entire life, I began to see a great chasm that needed to be reconciled. So, I set out to find my own truth—the things I believed about love, people, dreams—without placing pressure on myself to meet someone else’s approval.

I felt that to become a blank slate was something that would help me ascertain what my own beliefs were, as opposed to what I was taught in the cult.

I deconstructed the idea of Christianity completely.

I took it all apart, piece-by-piece and was left with a sort of artists table with a clean canvas and materials to construct with. I had paints of all colors and tones, magazine cut-outs, fragments of books I’d read, pictures I’d seen, people I’d known, and experiences I’d had. With a clean slate in front of me, I took my old materials and examined them. I turned them to the right and the left and looked at them from the back, and the front with a critical eye. I read from experts in the field of religion, feminism, humanitarianism, literature. I compared them with human beings in history and the present time who were models of exceptional citizenship, who treated people fairly and respectfully.

Many of my old materials needed to be discarded. They came from a long line of historical violence, a present day close-minded manner and an anti-intellectual path that I no longer wanted to walk on.

As I felt more liberated, I acted more liberated.

The years of grief were mixed with years of feeling buoyant, vibrant.

There were years I’d sit at a writing desk and feel like a dried out old pen, because I was worried what the people from my past would think. How would they judge me? What gossip sessions would occur because of what I was about to write? What prayers of concern would go up to God from them on behalf of my soul, because I was now changed from the Lisa they knew? I had no voice to speak—only fear, yet I had words that were jamming up in my head and twisting like pretzels to get out. When I would begin to write, the nightmares would come. The mornings I’d wake up with fear that they were real. I was back there. The women were coming for me—ensuring I didn’t escape.

Grief isn’t something you navigate out of like short river boat ride. Grief is complex and misunderstood: the outer shell of humans experiencing it often not showing signs and other times causing people to fall apart, lose their ability to reason and calculate and concentrate.

Grief can also be like a painting:

grey,

black and hazy,

with a few strokes

of white

and blue

lighting up

the picture.

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to

be…Grief is different.

Grief has no difference.

Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden

apprehensions that weaken the knees

and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

You Can’t Please Everyone, So You’ve Got to Please Yourself…

Years ago, when I left the cult, the words of one song stayed with me and played over and over. The song might have been something my dad or mom told me about, as they often have a good way of referring to song lyrics to tell me why things worked out the way they did or to make me feel better. Either way, these few lines seemed really profound:

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.

You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

I spent so many years pleasing the pastors and directors of the ministry school I was in. I did anything they asked. I worked in the office for over forty hours a week, came to their home and nannied their children, washed their dishes, scrubbed their toilets, folded their laundry, and stayed up all night with their infants when they were sick with earaches, etc. I wore baggy jeans so guys “wouldn’t stumble,” wore an undershirt to cover up any remote chance of cleavage showing, and monitored any dress or shirt or skirt I wore to make sure it wasn’t too tight or form-fitting. I sacrificed my dreams of being a missionary, to the pastors dreams of me being an Administrative girl and a pastors wife. I took their children to tennis practice, homeschooled them, made them snacks, and watched cartoons with them. I grocery shopped for the pastors.

When I left that cult, I was lost and confused. How was I supposed to live and operate my own life now after it had been controlled for several years, right down to the smallest decision? Was I capable of making decisions on my own without “checking in with someone else?” Did I have to pray about everything and check my heart and my motives over everything, as I’d learned in the cult?

In other words, did I have to be manipulated by the guilt even though I was free from it?

The answer I found within myself on my own journey was….NO. The bottom line is that life comes down to it being about YOU. Of course, we’re a community of human beings, so we have to be fair and just to one another. But what I’m saying is that no one can make decisions for you, or dictate your life. You are smart, and capable. And the bottom line is you can’t please everyone. You can’t please those pastors: I know when I left, I didn’t. They would have people spy on my myspace and facebook and report back to them about how I was doing. Since I wasn’t living in their group, running by their dictates, they were unhappy. But, I decided that I was the one who had to take responsibility for my own life, actions, and thoughts and I was not going to please everyone.

In fact, I was going to piss a lot of people off. And I have pissed a lot of people off.

But, my journey is not your journey. You have to please yourself. And you have to realize that “it’s alright now…you can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.” Forge your own path, your own beliefs and your own ethics. Don’t let them be dictated to you. And when people come against you for how you’ve changed or what they don’t like about you, just tell yourself that, “it’s alright now…you can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.” And if that doesn’t help, realize that remember that there is good in the world and there is good in your soul. In the words of Allen Ginsberg, “Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!”


 

 

 

Ricky Nelson–Garden Party

 

New Year, New Start

phonto (1)IT’S BEEN AWHILE since I’ve updated this blog with such personal things, but it’s time to open up about where I’ve been and what’s new in my life.

I’m leaving my job this week to pursue my dreams and it was because of my job that I was able to come to the conclusion that I needed to do anything to make the leap into what I love doing. Some people are perfectly happy being corporate. I’m not one of them. I’ve come to love the people I work with and I’m really sad I have to say goodbye to some of them but I know I’m doing the right thing for me. On days I doubt if I’m doing the right thing, one particular coworker I’ve grown close to sends me inspirational quotes and gives me pep talks. I’m scared to take this path, which is funny, because I know it’s the best thing for me to do.

EARLY THIS SUMMER I had a decision to make: Would I stay in this city regardless of what kind of job I had to take? Or would I prefer to finally apply to graduate school with the plan to write my book and get teaching experience? Despite sounding like it should’ve been an easy decision, it was hard. I have three pets and I’ve settled down where I’m at. In my twenties, I moved several times and the one thing I’ve wanted to have in my thirties was stability and a place to finally call home. I’ve grown close to my friends here and I have what some people would consider a dream lifestyle. I’m near the beach. The weather is amazing. I have very little to complain about.

Except my job and the fact that I was getting further and further away from blogging and writing the deeper I got into my job. The more skills I gained doing projects, the less qualified I seemed for what I wanted to do. At least to employers. Despite knowing that I’d take a significant pay cut walking away from what I was doing, I knew I had to do it. I’ve always read stories like this and wondered if I’d ever make the leap. I wasn’t ready, until this summer.

I SPENT the past three months picking my top graduate programs and on Friday I completed my GRE. I’ve finished up applications and now I just wait a few months until I find out where I’ll be moving to. My top schools ended up being University of Wyoming, UC Davis and UC Riverside. I also applied (and will apply) at a few smaller programs that have good reputations and good teaching programs. As I wait, I’ve decided to move closer to friends and family and work on my freelance writing and editing work. I started work as a freelance editor this year and work has been steady. I’m so glad I can finally focus on it now without burning out. I just can’t bear to keep veering off the path that will lead me to my dreams so this decision feels really great in so many ways.

It’s a new year and a new start for me. I’m going to be dedicating all of my time on the goal of building my career as a full-time writer and I’m excited to finally make this leap. Big things happened last year for me and as they were happening, I realized that my current life wasn’t very conducive to them. I had a brand new platform on which to write stories and I had no time to work on any of them. I had to make changes.

SO CHEERS to new starts and going after our dreams. I hope the new year holds amazing things for each of you and I hope to hear all about them!

dreams into plans

Inside Out

We are the ones. We are the ones who can see inside because we are outside. We can see when just minor tweaks have been made; small cosmetic changes. We know they’ve changed because we have spoken up; because we’re not silent. They’re not fooling us.

We are the ones. We are the ones who can see inside because we are outside. We can see when just minor tweaks have been made; small cosmetic changes. We know they’ve changed because we have spoken up; because we’re not silent. They’re not fooling us.

The questions still bother us, like a buzzing mosquito in our ear: Are they evil? Bad people? Malicious intent? The questions come and go bouncing like a buoy in the water, keeping us sane. They come to us because we’re outside now; we’re no longer inside. But they are still inside our heads telling us to be silent, that we’re rebellious, that we are listening to the Devil.

It’s simply not true. We’re outside but we struggle and then we gain ground and then we’re haunted by dreams of them–their faces, their teachings–and then we can finally breathe and rest in peace. And the cycle begins again.

Dreams

Tonight, I’m drinking a cup of hot chamomile and mint tea and letting the cool, fall breeze blow into the windows.

It’s night time, but that’s when I come alive.

There are dreams that happen during the night time (of which I remember few), and dreams that occur during the day. Most of my dreams happen during the day. I’m an avid dreamer. I walk around dreaming of words that need to be arranged in an order–or rearranged, images to be sketched out, and paints that need to be mixed up and spread onto a crystal, white canvas.

For someone who’s had a lot of nightmares–both in the day time and at night–it’s nice to have my dreams back. What’s extra special about these dreams is that I’m not being told what to dream, or even directed how to dream.

They’re mine–all mine.




What is Master’s Commission?

I recently started a forum to discuss issues related to this blog in further depth. You can access this article here: http://www.mycultlife.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=9. You must be a registered forum user to leave a comment on the forum, though.

You can also read the article here:

According to the Master’s Commission International Network, MCIN, website http://www.mcin.org, Master’s Commission and MCIN are described as the following:

Master’s Commission is an intense discipleship-training program dedicated to making Disciples of Christ. There are currently 120 programs world-wide in 15 different countries. Each program is based out of a local church and comprises of students mostly between the ages of 18-25. Master’s Commission International Network (MCIN) is the accountability and glue that holds these programs together. MCIN isn’t limited to any one denomination, but works with many churches.

An overview of the Master’s Commission USA program that Lloyd Zeigler currently oversees in his newly planted (as of 2008) Dallas, TX church, Relevant Church, states the following http://masterscommissionusa.com/page/overview/:

What started in 1984 as a small group of people agreeing to dedicate one year of their life to God has now grown into one of the most powerful, intense discipleship movements in the world. This one-year discipleship-training center started with just one program in Phoenix, AZ. Now it has spread to 91 affiliated programs in 10 countries and includes an international network (MCIN). Both Master’s Commission USA and Master’s Commission International Network, founded in 1995, are housed at Relevant Church in Dallas, TX.

MC USA has grown and developed each year by remaining on the cutting edge of this worldwide ministry. Between our ministry institutes: dance, drama, music, youth, children’s and evangelism, and our other ministries, including Restore community outreach, church services, travel within the US, missions, foster children mentorship, and more, you will be sure to find a place to develop your talents, pursue your dreams, and refine your desires. Last year Master’s Commission USA reached over 238,000 people with the gospel of Christ! Come join us as we endeavor to reach the world with the love and message of Jesus Christ.

You will be included in incredible Biblical teachings and ministry trainings from a staff whose calling and heart is to see you grow. To graduate our program each disciple is required to fulfill curriculum requirements, finish each discipleship obligation, and participate in all scheduled activities. Master’s Commission USA is committed to setting the pace in ‘hands on’ ministry training; therefore optional missions trips and ministry tours are available at an additional cost.

The staff is comprised of committed disciples who have lived the call and caught the vision of the Master’s Heart. Where other programs have one or two leaders for every twenty or thirty students, our staff-student discipleship ratio is better than one leader to two students. We look forward to meeting you and having you join our team. A year of your life spent ‘face to face’ with God is an experience that you will never forget, and one that you don’t want to miss!

You are eligible to apply for the year of discipleship (First Year Program) if you are of college age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. You are eligible to apply for our Second Year Leadership Program if you have completed one year in another affiliated MC program and Staff Internship Program. If you do not fall into these categories, we would still love for you to be involved with us. We welcome any help with City Lites, Youth, and other ministries at Relevant Church. Also, during the week our evenings are open to any one who would like to attend our After Hours. If you are interested in financial involvement, please visit the Master’s Society link on our home page. To be kept informed of all our major events, be sure to keep an eye on our Calendar. Master’s Commission begins in late September and ends in mid May.

 

Discipleship Schools: Foe or Friend?

Recently, I was discussing the issue of discipleship schools with a good friend. She brought up a very valid point: discipleship schools are NOT needed in churches today.

Why?

If a young person wants to enter into the world of ministry, currently the best option would be a Christian college or university or a secular university where they major in theology or religious studies. A minor in psychology would help, as well. I strongly encourage anyone who’s entering ministry to take a few classes on Christianity from a secular university, so as to learn the historic traditions of the religion. You will not regret this.

Another option, brought up by my friend, for a young person pursuing ministry is a paid internship. Many churches offer these, and they allow  young people to work for a particular pastor or ministry group, while getting paid experience.

If someone wants to volunteer at a church, there’s always that option. I’ve never heard of a church who turns away volunteers.

The difference between a discipleship school and volunteerism is this: when you volunteer for a church or organization, you aren’t held to anything. You are working for free and free to come and go as you please. You’re not demanded to do certain things–you simply are there to help and can leave when you wish.

Not so with a discipleship school.

If you enroll in a discipleship school, you may hear the term, serving unto the Lord or you may be told that you’re just volunteering to help the church.

What’s wrong with this terminology?

For starters, anytime someone labels what you’re doing “unto the Lord,” there’s a real good possiblity that something unhealthy is going to go on. For example, if you’re cleaning the gym of a church “unto the Lord” it’s going to be extremely easy for the person who’s asking  you to work for them to take advantage of your situation and your attitude. Clearly, Christians have been taught to give to God selflessly, and it’s been our idea that the pastor and church are reflections of God, so giving to them is just like giving to God.

Right?

Wrong.

When you volunteer, just be aware of the following:

  1. You set the time that you work and you get to dictate how long you work.
  2. You should make sure that your boundaries are clear. If someone you’re working for is disregarding those boundaries, you have the right to stop working with them or tell them to stop what they are doing that makes you feel uncomfortable.
  3. You’re not being paid, therefore you are giving something to someone who needs it. That person (whether it’s a pastor, or minister) should be grateful for your help and should not take advantage of you. If so, they’re probably not someone you should volunteer for again.

These days, discipleship schools require young people to give up their freedom to date, restrict any personal contact with the opposite sex, financially contribute to the school, report to a pastor about every move they make, and selflessly serve that pastor for years of their life–neglecting their dreams, financial stability and potential to start a family.

Does this sound like something a HEALTHY CHURCH would want or need?

No.

Readers: Help me define some other reasons why discipleship schools are unnecessary in today’s day and age.

Bubble Boys and Girls: There’s LIFE Outside!

One day, many years ago (five or six, to be exact), I was driving from a small, bayou filled town named Broussard, Louisiana that just contained our church, an Albertson’s and a pizza place to Lafayatte, a slightly larger city. I remember turning the corner of one street, the clouds hazy over my car looking like it might rain, thinking, I really hate living here. I hate the weather. I hate this city. Nothing is appealing to me here…But I feel like I can’t leave.

There were many times I didn’t feel fulfilled at my cult life. I felt my dreams were stripped of me, while I was forced to do a job that would get someone higher up their dreams. It was a sad place to be for someone who dreamed a lot–like me.

There are some readers who are still in that ministry group, or in that church, who read this and want out. I know how you feel. I felt that once. At that point driving, I thought of leaving, but I wondered, What options do I have? What would I do with my life? What ARE my dreams?

I’d never given myself full liberty to think about MY own dreams and ambitions, while I was “serving my pastor.” I didn’t think about my options in life, either. I just assumed I’d wasted seven years of my life in ministry and if I left now, I’d leave everything I’d built my life around.

One afternoon, I told my sister I wanted to leave and how the pastor had told me he COULD send me to India to do missionary work (which was at the time, my dream) but he wouldn’t. He didn’t think I could handle it.

My sister said, “You know, Lisa, there are so many groups you could work overseas with. It doesn’t have to be them. The Catholics have missionaries, the Seventh-Day Adventist groups, etc.” She went on to list various groups who did missionary work similar to what I’d wanted to do.

It gave me hope. If someone was going to stop what I thought was God’s will and MY dream for my life, to abuse me for their own, then I could do something about it.

I also started thinking about college. I’d been thinking about college for years prior, and had asked to go, but the answer was always, NO!

In high school, I’d always gotten good grades and been very academic, so I knew I wanted to go to college. I finally started looking into it during my last few months in Louisiana. I even filled out an application to University of Louisiana, Lafayette. I was going to stay and work for the pastor, but he said he didn’t think I could work for him AND go to school at the same time. It’d be a lot for me to handle.

Instead, I ended up moving home to attend a California State University close to my parents. Within weeks, I was accepted to the school and to the Helen Hawke Honor’s Program based on my high school GPA and SAT scores.

Over the next few years, I finally decided that creative writing was something I’d always wanted to do–since I was a little girl. I said good-bye to the dream of becoming a “missionary” but didn’t say good-bye to my humanitarian nature. Instead, the more I learned in college, the more dedicated I became to humanitarian crises and awareness of how to help. Mine was not a religious calling, I found. It never was.

My writing developed over the years. For years, I knew I was a writer, but felt people would judge me and I just felt mute. I couldn’t show anyone anything and worse yet, I couldn’t even type things out for fear someone would read them and judge me. I cried in class when anyone would criticize my work.

Then, I moved cities and took some writing classes. I was published and had to read to around 300 people. I made friends with a great writing community of wonderfully creative, smart people whom I miss. I was surrounded by writing professors who believed in me.

I’ve also taken up painting, drawing and photography. My writing is often realistic and unapologetic but my paintings are lively and show life as eternal springtime.

The point of my post? There is LIFE and DREAMS and AMBITIONS in this great, big world out here. Come out and play! It might just be the best decision you’ve ever made.